Archive for April, 2012

I have been turning my mind lately to what could, or should, be central and unifying concepts that represent what we mean by Personal Development here at Henley.

Earlier posts on this blog have rehearsed some antecedents, but inspired by a seemingly inexhaustable parade of “lists” that form a daily digest of reading in popular management magazines and blogs, I really wanted to have a go at a compilation of my own. People do seem to feel at home with lists, and who can blame them? (it’s probably just a matter of time before there’s an an article published with the title “the five benefits for leaders of making lists”…)

So over the coming weeks, dear reader, look out for six intermittently posted attempts to give food for thought for your own management development and management practice.

First, this post names all six principles. I take these to be pre-requisites for Personal Development, though all of them are also activities for practice. There will be other activities, particularly related to career development, work-life balance and academic achievement, that complement these six things, but philosophically they are my starting points.

1. Acknowledge things, without judgement, as they are

2. Seek out, and pay attention to ‘difference’

3. Engage in dialogue

4. Practice awareness of the whole, not the parts

5. Align personal purpose and the purpose of business

6.  Use the logic of metaphor

The first on this list will form the topic in the next posting.

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As this picture taken this weekend in Budapest shows, when you have enough people available, taking down scaffolding from a seven storey building becomes a team-building exercise…


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Following my argument in Part 1, which was expanded on and clarified by some very welcome comments, I would like to conclude this brace of postings by setting out what I hope will stand as an opening statement for a “Henley approach” to Personal Development. It will need further thought and development, of course.

The Henley position needs to achieve two things. In the first instance, it must be of practical use to the managers who come on our programmes. In other words, it must serve individual goals and the unique, individual purpose behind each person’s study. Secondly, I believe it must go beyond just complementing other modules on the MBA; it must unify the individuals’ purposes with two others, namely the purpose of education and the purpose of business (as in the figure below). No small task.

In Part 1 I argued that where Personal Development is mentioned on an MBA programme at all it tends to manifest either through external factors or internal ones. Where PD has been placed on the MBA in response to external factors (competitor offerings, accrediting body recommendations, assumptions about the job market and demand for preparation of students looking for jobs, and so on…) it is accompanied by a strong sense of being “bolted-on”, of consisting of cumulative add-ons. These extra components are like a buffet that a person may visit if they want (repeatedly, if they so wish) but, equally, they can ignore them too.  The rhetoric of this external version is fundamentally externally focused. The programme will shout very loudly about these opportunities and will showcase them, linking them closely to the idea of the “career leap” implied by the degree offered. Yet that integrative link is by implication only and this external model is actually highly individualistic, short-term in outlook and unproven.

Contrast this with the kind of approach to Personal Development on an MBA where it has emerged from internal factors. These factors are those that are (or should be) also intrinsic to the philosophy of education ascribed to by the MBA provider. Such an approach is essentially a position arrived at privately, and one would not expect any one Business School to look to, or to try to out-do, any other in this regard. Although the need to look over the neighbouring MBA School’s garden fence is not there, the vocational roots of business education would suggest a more harmonious relationship between what hiring organisations need and what the institution stands for. But even this may not be enough, as few hiring organisations ever take the time to consider why they are in business in the first place (beyond making money, which is just an abstract goal). Some, not all, organisations have become as equally short-term in their thinking as some, not all, MBAs, and just as eager to jump on band-wagons.

At this point it should be noted that while the majority of MBA programmes at least cater for PD via the “add-on” approach, many do also already have elements of both the external and the internal positions. It seems that these days catering for the external factors is important (the minimum), and catering for the internal ones is desirable, if you can get it into the course. Neither, however, constitute a position to PD which unites all three elements of purpose that I mentioned earlier.

So my suggestion for the Business School is to go a step further and ask three fundamental questions about all these different forms of purpose (and I have suggested a few possible answers in the diagram above).  I think this is to go beyond the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency) definition of PD as “a structured and supported process undertaken by a learner to reflect upon their own learning, performance and/or achievement and to plan for their personal, educational and career development” and allow Personal Development to be an idea that pervades every aspect of Management Education. This is therefore a meta-position on PD, and I think it that supports the role of the “question” as the primary route to learning. At the heart of PD is curiosity, both practical and philosophical.

All of the modules on the MBA should have this in common, as this is the appropriate mode of enquiry in adult education. Managers are hardly ’empty vessels’ which need to be filled up with content. If anything, the problem is the opposite. Managers are so full when they arrive that they can only achieve change by first freeing up some space. They have to adopt an open-minded position to learning and doing, and the first and most important step is becoming aware that this is so. This is difficult because the prevailing experience outside the Business School (back at work) is one of knowing, of having answers, of finding solutions (and quickly) and of never questioning assumptions beyond those which stand in the way of the problem being solved.

Finally, in my opinion faculty too must be part of the unification of these three sets of purpose. This will be tricky, as universities are not usually cultures that excel in being comfortable with ambiguity, or in working across disciplines, let alone in trans-disciplinary thinking. Faculties can be silos, and programmes can be merely products. But the challenge is there, and I hope that we will understand that all of these things are inextricably linked.

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This was one of the things Dr. Jonathan Miller talked about  in a biographical Arena documentary aired recently on BBC.  An after-life is when an idea has gone beyond its original intention or purpose, or has escaped from the clutches of what Miller called “the custodians of the orthodoxy”, but is nevertheless imbued with new meaning, or new purpose. 

I think the interesting thing about the power of the after-life of an idea is that it cannot come directly from the past “itness”  of the thing in the orignal,  but rather from the extension into the now “itness”, or “the idea of it now”, or even (since the fact of an observer enables an infinite regress of abstraction) “the idea of the idea of it now”.

The programme reveals how Jonathan Miller’s lifelong interest has been one of carefully observing the world around him. The purposes to which that talent can be put have been extremely varied. In the documentary at one point we follow him along some of the narrow side streets in Florence, where he gleefully points out several examples of how framing the everyday creates novelty. He sees a large, red door held shut by a curved metal bolt, and then for him the re-frame of the bolt appears.  “What is so interesting,” he says “you pass by these things and you don’t notice them, and then your attention is drawn to one of them. And then you see that one as an example of a type, and then the type draws your attention and you think ‘I could do a whole exhibition devoted to 20 or 30 of these ways in which a lock is framed by the door…”

Our ability to see and then to categorise and re-categorise is the source of novelty and invention. Miller distinguishes between the ‘autographic’ and the ‘allographic’ in art, terms coined by Nelson Goodman.  Autographic works are those that are made, and “the extent to which they survive depends on the survival of the material of which they are made”, as opposed to allographic works, “in which nothing exists until the work is re-performed.”

In management, do we find examples of all of these things also?

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